stop shoulding on yourself


Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Writers love-love-love it when someone starts a sentence with, “You know what you should write . . . .” We want to reply, “Is that right? Well, you know what you SHOULD do?”

What’s funny is, as much as I resent someone else telling me what I should write and can easily dismiss it (unless it’s an awesome idea!), I have a much harder time ignoring every should I pile on myself.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

I should be published by now.
I should be able to edit my manuscript on my own.
I should read more.
I should be writing every day.
I should be done with this novel.

Those shoulds can really stack up. So, what should we do?

Consider sorting your shoulds. By that I mean, ask–Is this should self-imposed and unrealistic because I’m comparing myself to someone else? Or Is there a way I can change this “I should” into an “I will”?

Let me give you one real life example of how I did just that. For several years I struggled to finish a middle grade novel. And I’m ashamed to admit that. Here’s what held me up–I kept telling myself, You like this story. You love your characters. You know what to do. You should be done with this novel by now. Just do it. But then, another year would go by with no novel to show for it. I had to face the reality that shoulding on myself did not work.

I changed I should to I will be done with this novel–because I will seek help to make it happen. That simple change pushed me to enroll in a class with the Institute of Children’s Literature. My instructor and the deadlines keep me accountable, motivated and making progress. This year I will be done with my novel. I love-love-love being able to say that.

Far be it from me to prescribe how you should turn your I should into an I will. But aren’t you ready to stop shoulding on yourself? I say you should be.

I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.~Lily Tomlin

9 responses »

  1. Deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise can help a lot. Yesterday, I figured out that if I want this draft to be done my the middle of July so I can send it to a beta reader before the Aug. 1 deadline of maybe, maybe, maybe being chosen for the SCBWI-NV mentorship program, I must revise at least 3 chapters each week.

    There is no “should” in this post.

    Congratulations on your big revision day earlier this week.


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